Positive vibes are scarce with a team this out of tune
Sunday 07 September 2008
John Terry asked for positive vibes so here goes. England did what they had to do by getting their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start, kept a clean sheet and, er, that's it. I'm sorry John, this is difficult.
The England captain says he and his colleagues are cowed when they play for their country, such is the fear of being criticised. But he can hardly expect garlands when a team of millionaires make such heavy weather of beating a side of part-timers.
Applause is muted when you get the better of a nation, who, at 186, are ranked lower in the Fifa's rankings than Afghanistan, who have more pressing matters than football. Standing ovations are not appropriate for such 2-0 wins.
England had a mixed reception, at best. The first boos began at 32 minutes when another cross thudded into the advertising hoardings and at half-time the players left the pitch to a chorus of abuse. You can understand the point of supporters who were in Barcelona only because last night's opponents cannot muster a stadium worthy of the name.
Andorra is more a skiing resort than a country with 80 per cent of its economy deriving from tourism. Think Blackpool with mountains and you get the idea of the Pyrennean principality's stature – except the home of the illuminations has nearly twice the population. And Blackpool can boast a full-time professional team. Antoni Lima, the man marking Wayne Rooney last night, is a part-time player whose day job is being the sporting director of Ibiza's biggest side, Elvissa. A gardener lined up alongside him, as well as an insurance salesman, a policeman and a couple of students.
No Premier League manager spent transfer deadline day last Monday trying to lure an Andorran player to his club, while England's players would command fees of many millions.
Last night only Theo Walcott and Joe Cole lived up to anywhere near that value, and Cole came on to become the decisive force in the game only after the disappointing first half that drove the England fans to jeers.
Walcott was chosen because Fabio Capello was giving David Beckham a rest before the more onerous task of getting a result against Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday. Whether the England manager will review that now is unlikely – Beckham was given a run out for the last 10 minutes – but at least the Arsenal man gave the team something it craves: pace.
That was apparent within 20 seconds when Wayne Rooney, whose lacklustre form for England surely has something to do with the lack of moving targets for his often clever passing, was able to flick a pass over the Andorran left-back. Walcott raced along his touchline in a manner Beckham last attempted in around 1995, crossed, and Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe almost put England ahead. Five minutes later Rooney played a pass inside the full-back and Walcott should have found the target with a volley from a narrow angle that flew over the bar.
That promising start should have been a launch pad for a comfortable night for England, but rather than use Walcott as much as possible, England reverted to hitting crosses from deep and then wondered why the diminutive Defoe was not getting the better of the large Andorran defenders.
Capello had seen enough by 45 minutes and the introduction of Cole and Emile Heskey for Stewart Downing and Defoe gave England a focus. Cole responded with a goal almost with his first touch and added another from a delicious pass by Rooney after 54 minutes.
Cole's first came six minutes earlier than 18 months ago, when England had to wait 54 turgid minutes before Steven Gerrard finally broke through the Andorrans, so things are improving. Is that positive enough for you, John?
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